A conversation with Dethra Giles. Chief Bridge Architect at ExecuPrep
“Yeah. And it’s crazy because you hear that… Well, we always hear the adages, this generation is soft. I got bullied when I was a kid and it was like, pause for a second. Can we acknowledge that just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it was right and that someone else should have a similar experience just because it happened to you? I was in a bad car accident. I don’t feel like every driver should have to experience a bad car accident to be considered an efficient driver.” – Dethra Giles
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dethra Giles about her decades of experience working in Human Resources with a focus on Diversity and Inclusion. She begins with reflections on how ‘playing teacher’ as a child influenced her career. Later, Dethra explores cultures of connection and how they transcended the transition to virtual workforces. We also discuss how diversity initiatives need to set new leaders up for success. Listen in for tips on how to think about unconscious bias.
[1:50] How Dethra Got Her Start.
[9:19] Leveraging Differentiated Learning
[17:25] How Cultures Of Connection Transcend Virtual The Workforce
[23:35] Don’t Talk About It, Be About It
[32:25] Unconscious Bias Awareness
Links | Resources
Dethra on LinkedIn
Dethra on Twitter
Dethra on Instagram
Dethra on YouTube
Happily Ever Employed Podcast
About the Guest
Dethra Giles is a four-time TEDx speaker, executive coach, and award-winning author best known as the CEO of ExecuPrep, was ranked by Engagedly as a Top 100 Influencers for outstanding contributions towards promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion and selected as HR Gazette’s HRchat Pod Top 22 most influential experts in HR. Clients call her “University tested, and industry approved.” Her unique blend of advanced education and industry experience positions her to provide maximum impact to executives and high potential teams.
Having worked with clients like Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, Kaiser Permanente, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Cox Communications, Dethra takes her education and years of experience and turns them into results-driven actions for her clients.
According to Dethra, her job is to deliver results to her clients by developing actionable strategies, optimizing performance, and eliminating distractions.
About Voltage Control
Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room podcast. A series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real-time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my book Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings, quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at magicalmeetings.com. Today I’m with Dethra Giles, CEO of ExecuPrep, where she leads a team of consultants who turn good employees into great senior leaders that increase performance, productivity, and profit. She’s also an international keynote speaker four times TEDx talker and author of Unstuck Discovering Career Limiting Actions. Welcome to the show, Dethra.
Dethra: Thank you. Thank you. It’s so great to be on the show.
Douglas: I’m so looking forward to this conversation. We were just chatting about some stuff that’s near and dear to my heart, so I can’t wait to get in. But before we do, let’s hear a little bit about how you got your start.
Dethra: Oh, my gosh. I think my start actually started when I was a little kid, so I was one of those kids that legitimately wanted to be a doctor, not because that was the only example I had of success, but I was going to go to college and be a neurosurgeon because I was going to be a brain doctor. Well, I got to college and there’s this little place on campus that they call a science center that felt more like Dante’s Inferno to me and I felt like it was probably part of the seventh layer of hell and it rejected me pretty quickly. And so I learned that perhaps you are not meant to be a neurosurgeon, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t meant to fix people’s heads.
And so I began to realize I want to fix people’s heads. If I can change how people think, I can change their outcomes, I can change how they live, I can change how they impact their family, their communities, and not just people but organizations. I started realizing organizations have a head, if I can fix organizations’ brains, I could impact their employees, I can impact their customers, I can impact the communities that they impact. And so I realized I’d given it the wrong name, but I was on the right path of what I was supposed to be doing. And once I figured that out, it was all over and I ended up here.
Douglas: Amazing. Wow. I think that’s pretty compelling. What do you think it was about the idea of being a neurosurgeon when you were a young girl? What really drew you to that?
Dethra: You know what was crazy is I didn’t know what I was doing. My mom would laugh because at the end of the school year, I would always stick around and help the teachers clear out the room. And it wasn’t because I was a teacher’s pet, it was because I wanted all their little worksheets so I could go home and play teacher for the summer. And so we would be in the back and my grandma was like, “Why did the kids have the lawn chairs back there?” Because teacher’s back there playing teacher again. But I remember I could do those little things and my cousins would start to improve in school and no one really understood why when they were struggling because we played teacher all summer long and I began to see the positive impacts with them because they were getting in trouble for doing poorly in school and now they can come out and play more, we can have more fun together.
I get to be with my cousins and ride around the community and not have to worry about it. So I changed the way they thought and I was like, Oh, if I can get in there and do it real time with a scaffold, it can be even more amazing. And so I started realizing pretty early on that if I could fix their heads or how they think I could have an impact and I just thought that meant you were supposed to do surgery with a scalpel. While I still do surgery, it’s a lot less messy because my clothes are cute and I don’t want blood on them.
Douglas: I agree. You’re definitely well dressed. You definitely take care and attention. It’s impressive. A role model for me for sure.
Dethra: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Douglas: So when you were teaching your cousins or playing teacher, what were your favorite subjects?
Dethra: You know what, it was crazy because this was elementary school and so I didn’t really understand that people had favorite topics. It was basically whatever worksheets I was able to get from the teacher. So it was like today we have math worksheets. Well, we’re learning the Pythagorean theorem and today we have language arts worksheets, so we’re learning verb conjugation. Today we have a Spanish worksheet, so we’re learning…
Douglas: There is a concept I heard about years ago called interleaving where if instruction is interleaved where… Because a lot of times topics are taught from chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four. And this interleaving concept is that when you’re recovering chapter two, you might still quiz or ask questions about content from chapter one. So it starts getting layered and it’s not this linear sequence, right? Things are out of order so the brain can better understand them, better integrate them. And so in a way you’re kind of interleaving in a organic or random way just based on what sheets you’re able to get access to.
Dethra: Yeah, it was interesting and what it’s crazy is I took that even into parenting. My kids were doing things that people would tell me they weren’t supposed to be able to do, but because I wasn’t the traditional-minded parent of, Oh, I want kids, I always wanted kids. And so I had this studied children, it was like, hey, can’t they learn this? So I remember one day my kids were in preschool before pre-K, three or four years old and they were able to multiply and the teacher was like, “How can your kids multiply?” I was like, “Oh, I taught them on the abacus and this is how you multiply.” And they were like, “They are too young to learn those concepts.” But I didn’t know that they were too young to learn the concepts, so why not?
Douglas: Yeah, it’s interesting. I had a friend who is in a Slack group with me and she experienced the same thing. She was helping her kids with questions they had and the teachers got upset because they got ahead of the class and I guess the concern was that they were going to be bored or not having anything to do because they would be ahead of the class. And it’s like, well, that seems like a strange approach to that, right? Couldn’t the teacher look at them and say, “Oh, wow, now I have someone who gets it.” Maybe there can be some peer-to-peer learning or maybe encourage them to be a coach if they’re ahead. It seems so strange to be like, “Oh, you’re an outlier so I don’t know how to deal with you.”
Dethra: And the best teachers do. My son is very much into animals and he’s very, very smart. So he’s tested as a genius. I mean, he’s that kid, and every year we’re… It’s a crap shoot because we’re like, Okay, is he going to get the teacher that loves this or will he get the teacher that hates it? And so the teachers that love it, one teacher, I remember he was in fourth grade, he’s an animal nerd and the teacher said, “You know what? You know way more about animals than me. How about every Friday you teach a lesson on the animal of your choice.” And that was how she curbed that excitement and energy that was kind of disruptive. And this kid would come home, it’s like I have to do my PowerPoint, I got to do research. He’s in fourth grade researching for his presentation that he has to do every Friday on an animal because he gets to teach a whole component on an animal. That was the best school year of his life. He’s a freshman in high school now and he still talks about it.
Douglas: That’s amazing. I think I’ve always heard that as differentiated learning, really paying attention to the individual and trying to craft an experience or a moment for them. And that’s a testament to that teacher’s skill and just ability to see and notice what he needed.
Dethra: But you know what? We see it in the workforce as well, right? The leaders. It wasn’t even just about her ability to see it, it was about her confidence and her own ability. Because what often happens in education and we see also in the workforce is that when you see a highly talented professional that’s intimidating, Oh, my gosh, what if they take my spot? Oh, my gosh, what if I look less knowledgeable? Oh, my gosh, what if I’m challenged as opposed to saying as a leader, if my people do well, I look amazing? So do you know how good this teacher looked because she had this stellar student who other teachers were saying, I want to bring my kids to your class for his animal lesson because that’s a much better lesson than I’m teaching? She looked like an amazing teacher. She was up for teacher of the year literally for doing something like that, by not being intimidated by his talent. And the same is true in our workforce. If we can say, if you’re great, my job is to give you a pedestal to be great because your greatness accelerates my leadership. It’s a game-changer.
Douglas: I’ve always said that facilitators make great leaders and facilitation skills are so important for leadership and teachers are some of the best facilitators on the planet.
Dethra: Oh, absolutely. Especially the good ones. Now they’re not all good, but the good ones, oh, my gosh. I would hire a teacher in a leadership role any day, a good teacher any day because they know how to… Imagine the different personalities they have to deal with every single day. And that’s not even including the parents, the administrators, just in the classroom on a day-to-day basis, they have at least 20 different personalities they have to deal with and know consistently.
Douglas: 100%. And especially if they have any skill in social-emotional learning because such a critical component of how people are showing up at work. And I’m personally happy that more and more schools are bringing that into curriculum for young kids. It’s going to have a positive impact on the future of workforce. But we got to do something about the people that never got that.
Dethra: Oh, my gosh. It’s almost like, can we just start over?
Douglas: Yeah. Some of us got bullied, but let me just talk about it.
Dethra: Yeah. And it’s crazy because you hear that… Well, we always hear the adages, this generation is soft. I got bullied when I was a kid and it was like, pause for a second. Can we acknowledge that just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it was right and that someone else should have a similar experience just because it happened to you? I was in a bad car accident. I don’t feel like every driver should have to experience a bad car accident to be considered an efficient driver.
Douglas: Yeah, it’s a strange human condition that we have around fairness and it’s almost this victimizing ourselves or something that we can get into around, well, this happened to me and so I toughed it out. And it’s like, is that the world we want to create, or do we want to try to create a world where these things don’t happen or we avoid them as best as we can?
Dethra: Exactly. Well, we going to say, I’m sorry that happened to you. Let’s make sure… And it’s like it should be flipped. It’s like I want to create a space where no one else has to have that experience. That’s what a bad experience should do for you. Say, how do I create a space where this experience doesn’t happen to others because I survived it, you need to survive it too. And it’s okay that you have that experience. It’s absolutely not.
Douglas: And how can we use those experiences to be learning moments around what was nuanced about going through that? That gives me perspective on helping people avoid it or helping identify some of the triggers.
Dethra: Yeah. And even what we call it though, I was working with one woman at leader and we were talking about sexual harassment and she spoke about her experiences being sexually harassed, but her response was, it made me stronger. And I said, “No it didn’t. It made you traumatize and what you have now is a trauma response and that’s not a real strength.” So a strength is being able to take that and have a different type of learning from it but not dwelling in it. So everything you do now is not a strength, it’s a trauma response. So you’re not really engaging with people, you’re protecting yourselves from people and so you’re not getting the true breadth of what they can do and what you can do for each other. And so we often think that experience made me stronger in what we’re calling strength is simply a trauma response.
Douglas: Oh, yeah. It conjured up an image of a tortoise shell to me. And that’s a form of strength, but it definitely prevents connection and relationship and it can deter true collaboration and curiosity and things. And I think that type of strength sometimes, well, can prevent real healing.
Dethra: Absolutely. And that’s the biggest part for me is that what we’re calling strength is not a strength and it prevents our healing because particularly this executive that I was talking about and working with, she has a difficult time connecting with certain staff members because there’s this protective barrier that she’s calling her strength and it’s excluding a huge portion of a population that could be beneficial to her and her team and their outcomes.
Douglas: Wow. Yeah. There’s so many layers to the workforce when we really take a critical eye towards some of these things, right? And I think that is what so many people are missing. And it gets to something we were talking about in the remote work or in our pre-show chat about remote work and how people just took practices from what we were doing before and just kind of fork-lifted them into the virtual space and didn’t take care to rethink them. But I think there’s also something even more insidious here, which was the practices that we were employing before were still shortsighted. And now when we move them in a new space, we’re not taking them for granted anymore. It’s not business as usual, everything’s changed. So we’re noticing things more, right? We’re more critical of them because we haven’t gotten into patterns where we’re just kind of, things are just usual and we’re ignoring it. And so now we notice this stuff and it’s going to be really important that we approach work from a 360 view and look at humans three-dimensionally.
Dethra: I completely agree. When we talk about especially what you just outlined, it takes me back to the scientific theory about causation and correlation, right? And so what happened was we went to this remote work environment because it was forced and now we’ve correlated remote work with causing these outcomes. And the reality is the theory is still true. Correlation and causation are not the same, right? You cannot always tie those things together. And what the remote work revealed was that we had poor processes in the first place. We had poor cultures in the first place. We had poor systems in the first place and the remote work happened to reveal it, but it didn’t cause it. And what many organizations are saying now is, Oh, this remote work doesn’t allow collaboration. No, your organization didn’t allow collaboration, you just forced it because people were in the same place and they were never collaborating, you just made them sit in the room together, right? So it’s that correlation and causation is what many organizations are fluffing it off and not saying our stuff doesn’t work, they’re saying remote work doesn’t work. And it’s like, no, it’s actually your stuff for the most part.
Douglas: Yeah, if people were truly connected, then the remote wouldn’t have just detached everyone. Their connections would’ve thrived regardless of situation. And I think that’s true. You see organizations that had no problems, right? Through the switch to pandemic. And that’s because they had trust, they had safety, and the connections were there, the relationships were there and they figured out new ways to live through those. I personally think this just shed a big spotlight on a lack of connection and the detachment that was already there. So then now that they’re physically separated, that detachment is even more visible.
Dethra: Absolutely. I have organized companies that… Or clients that will say, I talked to my coworkers now that we are remote more than I did when we were together because they had a culture of connection in the first place. So they’re like, I’d see them more often because now things that used to be when we were in the office, I would just call across the hall and just get on my phone and call. Now I want to see them. So we do these video meetings all the time. I hardly ever just pick up the phone and call them because I want to see them. And they’re more connected now than they were when they were in the office, but that’s because that organization actually had a culture of connection.
Douglas: I think that’s so key and the place that everyone needs to start looking if they’re experiencing some of these things, rather than trying to think about what’s the right tool or what days should we be on-site or not. It’s like how are the people feeling and how are they taken care of and how are they relating?
Dethra: Absolutely. Because I don’t think people take into account the impact of how we feel when we work. People often say, Oh, you’re not paid to feel, you’re paid to work, we’re not paid to like each other. And it’s like, come on you guys, let’s think about the outcomes. So if I force you to be in the office and you don’t really want to be there, what does that outcome look like? What type of productivity are you going to give me? What type of collaboration is going to happen when I know, you know, we all know you don’t want to be here?
Douglas: Yeah, I mean, go back to your son in that classroom, the teacher could have done any number of things differently that would’ve possibly created totally different outcomes, right? But instead, she elevated, she founded a moment to take the strengths and utilized them. And if she had accredited an environment where he didn’t want to be there, that could have set the trajectory totally differently.
Dethra: It would’ve been disastrous. And even by doing that, she created an environment whereby he was engaged in things that were not engaging for him, right? Because it created this symbiotic situation. You know what? I care way more about animals than any of you do, and you give me my moment. So now when it’s not my moment, I need to be engaged in the things that you care about. And we see the same thing in the workplace. You know what, hey, this is a concern for you, it’s not a concern for me, but if I give it attention when the reverse happens, you will now give me your attention. And it’s a game changer for how we collaborate.
Douglas: I want to switch gears a little bit and hit on something that we talked about in the pre-show, which was something you were passionate about, which is kind of broadening the scope of DEI and specifically how companies are looking at diversity and dimensions of diversity.
Dethra: Oh, yes. So one of the things that bothers me, especially as a person that goes around doing this work around DEI is that oftentimes when we talk about DEI, we hit the top three race, gender, LGBTQIA+. Outside of that, people don’t even think about those different dimensions. And when I’m talking to organizations, I really want them to talk about DEI with specificity. I go to companies and they call me, Dethra, we need help with our DEI, we need to be more diverse. Cool, in what area? With what population? Where’s the concern? And they’re like, Oh, just more diversity. Really though? What issues have you recognized? Have you had an assessment to see where you are? I worked with a small firm out in Seattle and they said, “Dethra, we think we need more black people.” I said, “That’s awesome. What do you have to support that that’s the need?”
And when we did the assessment, they were looking for more people in a particular profession. When we did the assessment for their area, only 6% of the people in that profession were black. This company had about 10% black people in that profession. I said, Everybody else in this profession is looking at you. You have them all. Where would you get more people from? And so being able to stop and say, what is the real diversity we need? When we looked at it, what they really didn’t have was gender equity. And while you’re trying to fill this area, this is really… They had gender diversity, but they didn’t have gender equity. And so when we’re talking about DEI, I need organizations really be talking about that with specificity and not with generality.
Douglas: I love that. And I often see… I saw a chart the other day, it was like, this is what diversity should be and this is what diversity looks like. And it was an org chart and there should be, and it was pretty well distributed, it was good equity on the other one is like, this is what it looks like. All the non-white people were in the lowest rung of the org chart, right? And that’s happening quite often.
Dethra: Yeah. Some companies I work with will say, Oh, we are very diverse. Okay, great. Let me see what it looks like. And on paper, just with the raw numbers, they’re accurate. Oh, my gosh, your diversity looks amazing. But when I break that down again, when I’m saying address this with specificity, Okay, wait a minute. So you mean to tell me you have a company that’s… Let’s say 50-plus percent minority, but one a hundred percent of your senior leadership is white and male and of a certain age. How is that equity? How are you really diverse throughout the organization? And I mean, for this particular company, by the time you had to get about three layers down from senior leadership before you started to see any real diversity that would sprinkle a woman in there every now and then. But to see color, three layers down from senior leadership with a company that was over 50% people of color.
Douglas: Wow. Yeah. And it’s a big challenge too, even for companies that want to do it. Those are hard conversations to have because if you got a full leadership team, who are we going to replace? Who gets demoted to make these changes? These are non-trivial conversations.
Dethra: And the problem is that’s where most companies… That’s almost where I say we part ways with most of the companies we work with because everybody wants to talk about it, but no one wants to be about it, right? And even down to one company we work with, they said, Oh, my gosh, a position’s opening up and we’re going to identify a minority candidate and put them in the position. And I said, Wait a minute, this sounds very much to me like you’re about to set this person up for failure. Have you prepared this person to be in senior leadership? So diversity is not just about finding an open position and finding a “potentially” qualified minority candidate and putting them in the position. Real diversity is developing these people so that they’re ready to step into these positions and be successful. And most often how I’ve seen diversity done these days is they haven’t stopped and said, What is our real succession plan? Because a succession plan is not just about what’s opening up and who will fill it. It’s about preparing those people to successfully fill those positions. And that’s the part that we aren’t talking about when we’re talking about DEI.
Douglas: Yeah. And I think there’s opportunities to make bigger tables so that more people can play in different ways. Another thing that came to mind when you were talking about if there’s a representative population of like six, 8% and someone’s got 10%, are they geographically dispersed? Do they need to start thinking about other geographies that they can show up in if they’re feeling like they’re lacking? And what other ways are you seeing that folks should be looking at diversity? Because you mentioned the top three are getting the focus. I’m kind of curious, what are people blind to at the moment?
Dethra: What I think people are blind to so much because especially in the U.S, the focus… We see every day what we should focus on. And so our lens is narrowed down to what the news shows us, right? So we see situations like a George Floyd murder. We see situations like people being killed in the street by cops just from being pulled over. And so our lens focuses on that. But there’s even broader things. So I’ll give you an example. I was working with an organization and I was doing training for them on language and linguistic bias. And when I proposed it they thought, wait a minute, but this is a medical company. And one of the issues they were having is that their doctors, these are MD doctors who were being treated poorly because they had “vic accents,” so they’re being treated less than their level of expertise… Actually, brought in a doctor who was an expert in a particular area. And this man was treated like garbage because he had a thick accent and people kind of implied that he wasn’t as smart as people said he was. And that’s a linguistic bias.
Douglas: 100%. My friend’s dad is a lawyer and has a thick Texas accent. And he actually told me that he intentionally does not try to hide it because it makes people underestimate him. And as a lawyer…
Dethra: That’s what he wants.
Douglas: You don’t want to underestimate a lawyer, I’ll just say that.
Dethra: And it happens all the time. I mean, one of them that we talk about is people that have English as a second language. But even regionally, I remember when Bill Clinton was running for president, Mike [inaudible 00:27:10], who’s a famous journalist, was commenting on… He mentioned how Bill Clinton had gone to Oxford in England, had been to the Ivy League, and out of all the accolades that spoke to Bill Clinton’s level of intelligence. He followed the statement up with, but how come you still sound like a hillbilly? Implying that none of those accolades matter because you sound stupid, right? Implying that if you sound… Like if you have a certain type of accent, then the automatic implication is that you’re less than intelligent. And think about how that translate in the workforce. If I know that a “southern accent” sounds less intelligent, am I going to consider you for promotion because oh, my gosh, that’s like nails on the chalkboard when I hear them speak.
If I know that a vic accent because… Or your word usage isn’t so great because this is your second language, despite the fact that you probably speak five or six languages and might be more intelligent than everyone here. I’m judging you based on that, right? But these are just the different dimensions that we have to step into. Even when we talk about age as a dimension in the pre-show, we kind of talked about this a little bit, but people are completely blanking out on the idea that there’s this huge population of talent that we’re overlooking because boomer. Like, what? These people have been in the workforce longer than you’ve been alive. They’ve run companies, they’ve seen companies rise, fail, plateau, and they know this thing inside and out and they are still mentally and intellectually viable. And we haven’t considered this as our next source of talent. Really?
Douglas: Yeah, I mean, when you mention that, it really struck a chord with me and I’ve got several colleagues that have told me about folks that they’ve employed on a part-time basis that were like COOs of decent-sized companies, are head of sales at some company and they’re now some are retired or… In one case, there was a 60-year-old lady, certainly sixties, not that old, but her husband’s older than she is and he’s already retired. And so she’s not looking for a full-time job because she’s kind of semi-retired with him. But the wealth of knowledge and capability and you can imagine you’re kind of batting outside of your range because you’re able to hire someone on a part-time basis. So I think the age thing plus this fractional mindset could unlock a lot of potential for companies.
Dethra: Oh, my gosh, I’m one of those crazy radical HR professionals that’s always on the edge. So all of my colleagues are always like, Okay, Dethra, what radicalness are you into right now? And that’s one that’s for me. I often say everything that we began to set up to make the millennials happy at work is exactly what this population needs. They have no desire to come into your office every day. They want to be semi-retired, they want to contribute, go about their business. They don’t want you hanging all over them. They’re not interested in making a whole bunch of money just to work 85 hours a week. They want to enjoy their retirement, but they really want to remain intellectually stimulated. And so the very thing that we were setting up for them is great for this population. I remember I was able to hire an assistant once and this woman was the assistant to the chairman of the board for a major corporation. There is no way I would’ve been able to afford or even think about affording her. But for her being semi-retired and just wanting something to stimulate her mind. A lot of the structures that we have right now in my company were things that she put in place from seeing how they ran this major corporation where she was the direct EA to the chairman of the board.
Douglas: I think that’s super smart, learning from folks who’ve done it before and have the stories to tell. A lot to be learned from those folks. And I think a lot of times they get discounted. At last year’s facilitation conference, we had Huli speak about this and about how detrimental ageism can be.
Dethra: It’s huge because… And here’s the biggest part that we have to stop and think about again, this different dimension of diversity that kind of goes untalked about. No one really talks about… Aside from the fact that in the U.S it’s illegal, you’re not supposed to do it, but people find ways around it. No one is really talking about ageism in the workplace, right?
Douglas: I just had this thought that even if people aren’t trying to work around the law, a lot of times it’s subliminal.
Dethra: That’s really how unconscious bias works, right? It’s this thing that happens without you thinking about it, which is why it’s really so difficult to teach people about it because they don’t recognize I have taken an adverse action against someone based on my own bias, right? So we have in our heads that even think about… Wait, we have in our heads that heavy people who are “overweight” are unhealthy, which also means that they’re sluggish, which also means that they’re lazy, which also means that they’re unmotivated and we make a person’s weight mean all these things that we have no facts to support. One of my employees will be considered as overweight. This woman’s a runner, she’s a runner, like runs miles every single day. Who is doing that? Listen, I work out every day, every single day I work up first thing I get up in the morning, I pray and I work out. I am not running miles every day.
Douglas: Good for her. And it reminds me of… I just saw the ex COO of Bumble speak last week, and she’s got a new company she’s now CEO and founder of Found and they’re reframing the whole weight conversation. Because for so many years it’s always been about weight loss, like Weight Watchers and things, right? And they’re talking about weight care, which I think is such a lovely reframing and if it makes sense, right? Because Bumble was reframing the dating app for a whole new generation and for women. And now she’s looking at how do we reframe this whole sense of weight?
Dethra: Yeah. I think it’s so important. And I think that reframing has to happen across the board and it directly speaks to the thing I’m passionate about, which is DEI. It’s reframing what we’ve made all of these things mean, right? Because at the essence of DEI is really just that. That’s where the bias… Here’s the thing, we all have bias. You only talk about the negative bias, right? Because there are biases that are positive biases. I see this person and I prefer to do X with this person. I prefer to do Y with that person. And that’s a bias as well. So when we start talking about reframing, it’s diving into what people have made these things mean and reframing that. And that’s how we’ll get to the essence of really diving into making our DEI efforts really have the outcomes that we’re hoping they’ll have.
Douglas: I love that. And there’s something that is pervasive across companies where words will get thrown around. Jargon often, but sometimes it’s like internal brand words or whatever. They almost become slogans and over time they lose meaning. It’s not quite semantic satiation where you say the same word a bunch of times and you’re like, What does it mean? But that kind of is, it’s like the corporate version of that, right? And to your point, it’s so important when you’re doing work, no matter if it’s DEI or what, to make sure that folks at least know what they’re talking about and can agree on the terms and have a fundamental foundational understanding of the why, the purpose of the work.
Dethra: Absolutely. And that’s what the bulk of our work when we go in and do DEI work, is really not about teaching DEI because people have gotten so much DEI learning. It’s crazy. But it’s about using that DEI learning, most often, when we go in, we start off with our DARE model because what we recognize is people have learned this stuff. They just were never taught the conversational competence to use the stuff. And so that’s our biggest thing. Let’s give you the conversational competence to actually discuss this stuff and have productive outcomes because everybody’s walking around with an encyclopedia of knowledge, just not using any of it when it comes to this stuff.
Douglas: I love that conversational competence. And you mentioned the DARE model. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Dethra: Yes, actually it was the essence of one of my TEDx talks, and it was a model I created. I’m a person that’s very big on formulas, the former teacher in me from back in elementary school. And what I realized… And this is really true, back when I was playing teaching with my cousins, I realized that if I was able to give them a formula, they were more likely to be successful or more likely to try things they didn’t understand. And so the reality is, in any situation, people want to improve their likelihood of success. So if something is difficult, I will shy away from it because the likelihood of success goes down. But if you give me a formula, my likelihood of success goes up, which means my desire to try it also goes up. Like, again, the Pythagorean theorem, no one is trying to figure out the hypotenuse of a triangle, but if you say A square plus B square equals C square, I’ll try it out because it gets easier.
So that’s why I developed the DARE model. I wanted to give people a formula that made these conversations easier. And so the DARE model is very simple. It’s describe, acknowledge, review, and engage. Describe versus interpret, acknowledge similarities without minimizing differences. Review the narratives we have accepted this fact and engage for conversation, not conversion. And that’s the formula that I give people for navigating these tough conversations. That gives them a tool to create some conversational competence, though they had not been taught that well.
Douglas: That is awesome. And we’ll make sure to get that in the show notes. I know we have some URLs planned and I’ll make sure we have that TEDx linked over so folks can find it in show notes. And as we’re going to come nearing the end here, I want to just shift a little bit toward, in your view of the world, if you continue this work and you’re really successful and others get on board and join your cause, which I’m sure there’s plenty of people already on board, but more and more people join and it’s greatly successful. What does that create in the future? What’s that future you see when people are doing this work really well and the outcomes it’s creating?
Dethra: For me, it would mean a social impact, but a social impact that’s accompanied by a physical impact for my clients. Because I tell people, doing this work is not just what’s socially right, it’s what’s physically right, it’s going to impact your bottom line. So it’s more than just saying, we don’t have enough of these types of people in place. It’s saying this type of person is the best thing for this particular opportunity, and without that we are going to fail. It’s being able to step back and say, what systems do we have in place that prevent these highly qualified people from stepping into the roles they should be in? And what is that costing us? And reversing that cost loss into a cost increaser for the organizations which turns around and impacts all of those communities that that organization begins to impact. I want to see a world whereby communities and companies aren’t in silos, where it’s a symbiotic relationship where we all recognize we have to… Kind of the old native concepts of this doesn’t belong to anybody, it’s ours. And we’re all responsible for working collaboratively to sustain it and make it work.
Douglas: Amazing. I love it. Well, as we’re kind of drawing to a close here, I want to make sure to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with the final thought.
Dethra: So my final thought is really the idea of asking ourselves what is my role in all of this? What is my role in tearing down the silos that currently exist between communities and companies? What is my role in making sure that people who don’t have the privilege that I have, get some sort of equity in this process and we all have some sort of privilege and so what is the privilege that I have that I can lend to someone who doesn’t have what I have because I’m going to need someone who has a privilege that I don’t have to lend theirs to me. So really thinking about what is my role in making all of this work? Because until we all decide we have a role, it’ll never actually work.
Douglas: Wow, I love that. And just want to say, I really appreciated the time today. It was a pleasure chatting and I look forward to chatting again sometime soon.
Douglas: Thanks so much, Dethra.
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